***UPDATE AT THE END OF THE REVIEW***
Fortified on first glance may seem like something you’d see in old newspaper comic sections, not a video game, and after that first glance you move on to something else. With this, I ask you to reconsider for at least a few more glances. For a game with a very quirky, stylized, and to the point art style like Fortified brings you’d think this would be a game with not too much depth or strategy to it. Well, maybe quirky isn’t a perfect word to describe it, but the others sure do a good job of it. And that’s kind of the vibe the game gives me: does a good job, but it isn’t perfect. Luckily for the developer Clapfoot, it doesn’t have to be.
At its core, Fortified is a mixture of tower defense, real time strategy, and third person shooter games where you’re tasked with defending Earth from Martian robot invaders. You’ll be running around each map as one of 4 recognizable to the era classes, keeping your eye on the chaos, setting up structures for defense, and blasting anything that moves as quickly as you can so the rockets you’re tasked with protecting don’t end up destroyed that the level (and humanity) is lost. Each map has a set amount of enemy waves that you must contend with, and part of the strategy is managing your resources, not just on the field, but also in your wallet.
Before each round you’re tasked with setting up your defenses for the next attack’s movement pattern. With that you only have so much money you can spend at the start of the level so preparation is key. Well, preparation is key after every wave, but if you mess up at the start, you could doom yourself too quickly to recover in the heat of the battle. During the fight each enemy that’s killed tallies up some cash for you to spend. If you’re quick enough (coupled with you’ve earned enough money) and you notice an area that is kicking your ass, you can try and bust out a new defense structure, otherwise that money is added to the bonus for the next round of set up in between waves. You can add and subtract defenses on the fly, so if you notice that one area is being overrun by a certain type of enemy and what you have there isn’t cutting it, you can scrap it and add something else. Keep in mind, that each wave can bring something different, so you’ll want to pay attention to the line up every chance you get a breather.
As I mentioned earlier the art style is clearly a nod to 1950’s alien invasion comics or movies, and it does a really nice job of it, in game as well as the art pieces in the menus and beyond. At first I thought the graphics were a little bland, but the more I played, the more they grew on me and the more I realized they work really well with what this game is all about. The enemy designs just scream what that era of America assumed alien robots would look like, and does a good job of varying them up. You can also add to the plus column the Achievement pictures. Some games have generic, boring, or by the numbers background pictures that unlock with their Achievements. In case you weren’t in the know, Xbox One allows those pictures to be used for your home screen background as well as being the artwork for the Achievement itself. Each one here is distinct and exactly what this game represents. Kudos for being forward thinking on that front, because this actually does matter to plenty of people.
When you start getting a little deeper into the game, or even at the start if you aren’t familiar with these kinds of games, the difficulty can be almost overwhelming, but once you start to work out a strategy, even if it takes you further than you got previously on the map, it feels rewarding. If I thought I was doing well and got slapped down, I set out a different way the next time and once I got over that hump I started to feel the inner reward for my actions. Earning a victory by the skin of your teeth is a great feeling, especially if you’ve been struggling. Battles can quickly turn into nail biters, especially in the later rounds just as you start formulating a better strategy against more enemies and learning the nuances of each map. Also, figuring out when you use your character specific Heroic Power you’ve earned for destroying foes could be the key to victory, or the end of the world.
Another key to victory is finding the right combo of weapons and structures. When you start out, you’re a level 1 character and each of the 4 has a small, different combination to use. As you progress and level up you’re rewarded with points to unlock new weapons or structures as well as upgrading the ones you already own. There’s plenty to choose from, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Finding the right load out feels like a personal achievement in and of itself. Another key ingredient to victory is once you choose your weapons and structures, is choosing the right variation of it. Each item in your armory has 3 levels – the base version, and 2 modifiers to unlock. Once you unlock the 2nd tier you can choose 1 to use in battle between the 3. Do you want the extra missiles for your secondary fire, or would you rather your primary fire be much more powerful? Do you want your mortar launcher to fire off 2 rounds at once, or have the explosives freeze enemies for a few seconds? These kinds of choices can make or break a run at times, and the further along you are, the more these choices matter. Like most games, you’ll eventually find your favorites and stick with them (until you’re forced to stop being stubborn and try something else). There’s a lot of fun weapons and structures here, so experimenting shouldn’t be too painful, especially early on.
Now that we’ve gotten a good rundown of the game and some positive thoughts on what it’s got going on, let’s look at some of the disappointing and frustrating things I came across. Initially when you start playing you have no idea your character has any health. You have no health bar anywhere. You can see your rocket’s health, and that’s great, you need to so you know where you stand on protecting it, but you as a player are running around, seemingly taking damage, but the only indication on how hurt you really are comes from the screen changing color and distorting a bit. You don’t necessarily know you can die until that moment you do and by the time you re-spawn (5 seconds) you could have major damage done to your rockets that you may never recover. Once you figure it out, it’s a little easier, but still, without that health bar, it’s not 100% clear on how much damage you can exactly take. You regain health by not getting hit, but again, with no system on screen to show you, it can be a crap shoot sometimes to know whether you can charge in and save the day or have to wait behind to heal up a bit potentially risking rocket health (which you can’t recover) so you don’t die and lose 5 more seconds of possible rocket damage. It might seem small, and maybe it is, but as they say, it’s the little things sometimes.
The developers could have done a better job at explaining some mechanics in the game in just the overall sense. Reloading is a bit different than something like, say, Earth Defense Force (a game with a somewhat similar style), and truth be told I started off playing like it was like that series. If you’re out of ammo and hit reload, you don’t have to wait, you can just move over to the next gun and it will reload in the background. Most games don’t do that, so until I figured that out by myself, I was sitting there waiting for the longer than I’d like reload time to finish up. Once I figured it out I was golden, but up to that point, I was sweating my way through waves. Another piece of insight that would have helped more than trial and error was controlling your troops. The D-Pad gives them commands but the pictures that show what each direction does aren’t that well defined enough to know exactly what they are going to do, and in the heat of battle, that is not good.
This is a game that can be played single player or up to 4 player co-op online, but there is no option to play locally. Even if it were just a 2nd player, that would have been very welcome. Small dev team, I understand, but it’s still a hole in a game that just screams local co-op to me. Speaking of the online, I was only able to play a few random matches due to the game not being released yet, but it’s exactly like the single player, just with more people and everyone controls the same pot of money between each round, so coordination is very helpful so someone doesn’t go rogue. On the harder difficulties, however, it does seem like a game that would be hard to play singly. I can’t confirm that 100% not having delved too deep into the harder ones, but knowing how overwhelming normal can be, I can only imagine those levels with higher or stronger enemies.
Finally, and this is a small gripe, but there is a 2nd mode called “Invasion” which is this game’s horde mode with game play modifiers. In this mode you have only 3 maps to choose from. Not a deal breaker by any means, but the campaign has 12, so the smaller sample size is noticeable.
Even though there are some annoying things I found in this game, the crux of the experience is really fun to endure. I had a blast (pun intended?) playing every level and even when I failed, I just didn’t want to stop trying. After each loss (and even with a win) I kept wanting that “one more match” to satisfy my inner need to progress. I never got so frustrated that I gave up. The shooting is fun, mapping out where to put your units is an adventure on it’s own, and the enemies are all different and have their own strategies to take down. I know I’ve used that word a lot in this review, but it’s a fair word to use. You use it a lot in the game. You need it in the game.
For what Fortified offers, you could do a hell of a lot worse with fun factor on the marketplace. This is a game that I know I will find myself going back to and I suspect I won’t be the only one with that thought. In fact, I can hear it calling to me right now. Excuse me, I have to go save the world. Or, in my case, try to save the world and end up failing miserably.
Fortified! is out now on Xbox One and PC for $14.99. An Xbox One code was provided by the publisher for this review.
After delving deeper into the harder difficulties, I can now say that it is possible to play alone, but, obviously, the difficulty does ramp up accordingly. Having played online much more now that there are people to join up with (it was hard to find players before launch for the review, and when I did, there were poor connections constantly), I can comfortably say that the harder difficulties the enemy count is much higher the more players in the match. So with that said, if you plan on playing online with either friends or randoms, you all better bring your A game and hope you can coordinate well, otherwise, the Earth is doomed.
PS The game is still a blast to play. I briefly considered raising my score to a B+ based on being able to find more players online, but I ultimately decided against it due to my personal preference to typically play games offline and having more fun that way. BUT, if you are someone who really enjoys online co-op, consider that bumped to the B+. If you can find the players, you can find the fun.